Fifteen years before Amistad, there was the Antelope: a slave ship with 275 captives whose fates were argued before the U.S. Supreme Court not just once, but three times.
Jonathan Bryant, author of Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope, joined Roland Martin on NewsOne Now to discuss the story of Antelope and the battle to free its “cargo.”
In 1820, a suspicious vessel was spotted lingering off the coast of northern Florida, the Spanish slave ship Antelope. Since the United States had outlawed its own participation in the international slave trade more than a decade before, the ship’s almost 300 African captives were considered illegal cargo under American laws. But with slavery still a critical part of the American economy, it would eventually fall to the Supreme Court to determine whether or not they were slaves at all, and if so, what should be done with them.
Bryant describes the captives’ harrowing voyage through waters rife with pirates and governed by an array of international treaties. By the time the Antelope arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the puzzle of how to determine the captives’ fates was inextricably knotted. Set against the backdrop of a city in the grip of both the financial panic of 1819 and the lingering effects of an outbreak of yellow fever, Dark Places of the Earth vividly recounts the eight-year legal conflict that followed, during which time the Antelope‘s human cargo were mercilessly put to work on the plantations of Georgia, even as their freedom remained in limbo.
“[Dark Places of the Earth] is the important case about slavery that people have stopped writing about,” Bryant said. “The Antelope is the case that the Supreme Court had to decide, which had [precedence], the rights of liberty or the rights of property.”
Though the story told in Bryant’s book took place over 200 years ago, Bryant explained the narrative depicted is relevant in this day and age. Bryant said, “The Supreme Court does decide that property rights are superior to natural human rights.”
According to Bryant, Dark Places of the Earth is also a shocking story of child abuse. In researching the book, he discovered that out of the 258 individuals who were still alive when the Antelope was brought in to Savannah, Georgia, 41 percent of the captives were between the ages of five and ten.
Watch Roland Martin and author Jonathan Bryant discuss Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope in the video clip above.
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